Steps in teaching informative and persuasive speeches and using podiums

Hi Susan:

Hope you're having a great end of the summer. I'm putting a syllabus for teaching a public speaking course together and have a few questions I was hoping you might help me with.

In the past, I have been advising my students to decide on a topic, a purpose, and a thesis first when it comes to putting together either persuasive or informative speeches.

Next, I ask them to do their research, complete a formal sentence outline (body first, introduction and conclusion next, then fill in transitions) and then add specific quotes or references from their research.

Next, I ask them to translate the information from the outline to a key word outline on index cards to use during their presentation and to coordinate their powerpoint, props or media.

My question is:
Do I need at some point for them to turn the speech into a formal paper, or into manuscript format before doing the index cards?

Would this help them?
Is it customary?
I don't want them to read from the paper. I want the speech to be extemporaneous but somehow I'm thinking putting it in a coherent paper might be a good idea before they condense it and punch it up.

What do you think? Am I missing a vital step?

Also,(and thank you in advance for my putting up with my long-winded questions), in the past, I have not had students give their speeches at a podium because I think that it closes them off to the audience and limits their body language. New speakers also tend to hang on the podium, etc. So I have them practice exercises and present speeches center stage. Is there a right or wrong way to do that?

Thanks for all of your great
newsletters. I'm as always a huge fan and appreciate all you do.



Hi Nancy,

Great questions! They're ones I've thought about too. I'm not sure I have definitive answers but I have some ideas to share. Perhaps others would like to join the discussion too! The more the merrier.

Question 1 - Whether or not to turn an outline into a formal paper BEFORE preparing index or cue cards

What are the potential gains?

They could be:

  • confidence through familiarity and focus
  • greater understanding of the structure/process of crafting a speech
  • crystallizing or cementing the flow of material especially 'gems' - those apt and happy phrases that unless captured in writing are likely to disappear from memory
  • discovering flaws in the flow - eg. gaps or insurmountable logic leaps

What are the potential losses/pitfalls?

They could be:

  • wooden or stilted delivery through strict adherence to remembered script
  • confusion between formally written language structures and conventions and freer, less formally structured oral language.
    For instance; full sentences v phrases or long, and possibly complex, sentences v shorter ones
  • stifling or restricting spontaneity and the freedom to respond to an audience

In teaching I've done both and have seen the gains as well as the losses played out in full.

For myself, I want a script and I write one. I'll play with it out loud, toss it around, substitute this word for that, shift chunks, change the opening, the ending and I keep doing that until I'm satisfied (or have run out of time!) that I've got down the best I can do. Then I'll write up index cards. My script is flexible until that point.

I think the key to remember is that this is an oral art. A script or paper is only an adjunct - a useful element. It's the speech itself, its delivery or performance, that is important. Planning, researching, outlining, scripting and index card making are essential steps toward that; nothing more. It's easy for students to forget that, to become fixated on getting the paper work done, putting little thought or energy into the actual live performance/presentation.

In my experience what's made significant positive difference in a final presentation is the amount of sincere, intelligent practice that's been put in. By intelligent I mean being open enough to accept guidance, to incorporate and build on it. Practice is probably the most frequently overlooked and underrated step in the whole process!

Question 2 - What are the right and wrong ways to practice being comfortable center stage

Ahh, the podium conundrum! We're agreed we don't want students hanging on to it, hiding behind it, mumbling head down reading a wad of notes.

Instead we want them standing tall, talking coherently and directly to their audience while using confident gestures and using their cue cards well. We'd also like them to smile where appropriate, handle questions with aplomb and have seamlessly integrated their media, if they are using any.

The biggest wrong (which I know you know already, and would never do), is expecting students to get on stage without any practice at all.

And yes, it happens. I've seen it. That's potentially terrifying and humiliating for students, and irresponsible teaching. I know why it happens: teachers run out of time to achieve all they should, or simply don't know enough and therefore unwittingly expose their pupils because they've forgotten what being an adolescent feels like, but it is still inexcusable.

The next one is giving them limited practice - once or twice before the event with little useful instruction or demonstration.

I think the ideal is achieved in incremental steps through exercises or games that you said you already use. Exercises pin pointing facets of good delivery are best as they allow focus on one element at a time. Learn one, put it in the store cupboard and then get another.

General catch-bucket activities, although often fun and have a place for building confidence, don't allow that discrimination.

I found it useful to have practices for:

  • cue card use: the best size, readability, how to hold, how to flip them etc
  • voice: breath, volume, variety, pace, pause, pitch, clarity
  • body language: stance, movement & gesture, eye contact, walking on and off stage
  • media integration: set up, handling props, coordinating hand outs and/or power point presentations
  • handling questions and so on

The trick is getting/making enough time for it all to happen AND convincing your students it's worthwhile. Some will get, and run with it. Others will give you 'the look' as if to say, 'lady - you've lost the plot!' But that's all part of the joys of teaching.

Thanks once more!
And do have a great term. May all those students arrive full of vim; fit, ready and willing to work.

Kind regards,

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